I am in an Advent kind of mood. Sorry. Christmas is lost on me this year. I don’t feel merry and bright. I can’t really even explain it, except to say that my heart hurts. It has been living too long in the tension of what should be and what is. I ache with the disparity and my own inability to reconcile the difference.
This Christmas season, unlike any other, I am aware that there are children who will go to bed tonight cold, hungry, feeling very much alone. The needs are real. They are intense. For some children it is not even the physical needs that are so bad, but the sting of being left alone by those who are supposed to love them the most, the emotional abandonment that comes because other things in life are more important. What can ever be more important than caring for one’s own children? But here it is, the evidence revealing itself in surprising ways, in surprising places.
It stings because I sit in my warm home, surrounded by my family. My boys are so deeply loved. They are surrounded by a network of family that holds them, a safety net that is always there, resting gently beneath the love my husband and I hold for them. I see the way Tim cares for them, the time he takes, the surprises he plans for them, especially when work keeps him away. It warms my heart. I know my life is blessed. Even in this imperfect life, I know we are so, so blessed.
It breaks my heart when I think of children in other homes, not having what is so easily taken for granted in ours. And I want to do something. I have responded to the needs lodged in my chest to the capacity that I can. And I know it still isn’t enough.
I hate it. I hate that I have so much passion inside of me to make a difference and I can’t. And I will say, I’m a little mad at God. Because I’m stuck in circumstances beyond my control. I can only do so much. I can only leverage my gifts and abilities so far. And the gap between what I want to do and what I can do at this moment is tearing me up inside. So my Christmas spirit is shot.
But Advent is fitting. Advent is that season that anticipates the coming of the anointed One. It is living in the dark place, while leaning into Promise. The darkness can feel so pervasive. In Advent one lives quietly with darkness, but holding fast the hope for light in one's heart. It is the staunch refusal to allow the darkness to pervade everything, even if the corner of hope left is small. The One we wait for is the anointed One. the Christ, the Messiah, the One filled with Spirit for the purpose of eradicating the darkness. His awaited Presence touches need, perfectly answering, filling, punctuating, satiating. He is all we desire. This waiting intensifies our need, clarifies it, distills it. Even if we cannot name it, it names us, affecting all that we do, the choices we make, the way we make our way in the world.
The ancient Hebrew people waited for the Holy One in the silence of 400 years, without one word from the prophets. Even words of reprimand would have been welcome when you wait in silence that long. They waited as they passed from one hand of domination to another, eventually subdued by Roman rule. Their waiting was a groaning, a yearning, a longing, stretching into centuries that looked desperately for relief.
I love the way the hymns of Advent answer this need, this pervasive darkness—
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
God answers the world’s deep need by piercing the night with the squalling peals of a newborn. His answer for a need so huge is a baby. Israel was looking for something more.
If I am honest, I am too. I want the hurting to stop. I want the ache in my heart to go away. I want the passionate need in my chest to be quieted by the living out of purpose, to know that I’m spending myself in a way that alleviates the needs I can’t not notice. To know that I am participating in God’s redemption of the brokenness I see.
I think the thing that the Hebrew people missed, the ones who couldn’t accept Jesus, was that they missed the meaning of His name. He is called Emmanuel—God with us.
God is with us.
In the darkness. In the silence. In the disparity. In the paradox. In the long night that feels 400 years old.
God is with us. He hasn’t left us. He hasn’t gone blind. He knows and He sees and He loves and He is answering the deep, deep needs we cannot even articulate with His Own Self.
I don’t know why God doesn’t just make the earth shake. I don’t know why God doesn’t just snap Divine Fingers and solve these needs. But here is what faith is telling me—
God has touched my heart in a special way in this Holy season, not so that I will be forever lost in a chasm that I cannot bridge. God has given my heart eyes to see a need, the grace to feel it deeply, so that when He changes my circumstances from lack to abundance I will be ready to serve. And I will be absolutely clear about how I should do it.
The 400 years of silence was really a gift; it created a hunger perfectly matched to the Salvation God wanted to send. I believe God does the same thing for us; He stirs in us desires that He is already prepared to fill. Our waiting just shows us how big the Gift really is.
Can one timidly rejoice? The words of the song hit me fresh. This is my exile, my longing and hoping and yearning. I feel so deeply the need that only God can satisfy. I know that He is going to have to move some mountains around for this to be alright. And the faith part of me says that even though I can't be sure exactly how He will do it, I can rejoice because Emmanuel shall come to me too. Emmanuel comes for all of us who are weary of living in the darkness and longing for the light:
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.